Thanks to COVID-19, wedding season was put on hold this year for many people. But for some, it raged on. Now public health authorities have linked 60 cases of COVID-19 to a Maine wedding earlier this month.
The cases were traced back to a wedding and reception that took place on August 7 in Millinocket Lake, the Portland Herald reports. Now, a few weeks after 65 people attended the reception, public health experts linked 60 cases back to the event, Nirav D. Shah, M.D., director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Not all the cases were people who attended the wedding reception, however. Public health investigators said that, out of the 60 cases, they had identified 22 primary cases, meaning those people directly attended the event. They also identified 14 secondary cases (people who were in close contact with someone who went to the wedding) and 24 tertiary cases (people who were in close contact with secondary cases). Of the 60 cases, 83% have shown symptoms and there have been two hospitalizations associated with the outbreak.
Among those 60 cases are also six cases related to Maplecrest Rehabilitation Center in Madison, Maine, Dr. Shah said. Essentially what happened, he explained, is that a guest who attended the wedding infected their parent. The parent then had contact with another one of their children, who works at Maplecrest. That person then infected four residents and one other employee. A staff member at the York County jail also attended the wedding, Dr. Shah said, and this person was among the first confirmed COVID-19 cases at the jail where there are now 18 cases. So all three of these seemingly disparate outbreaks now appear to be linked.
The fact that all of this happened over just two-and-a-half weeks is a reminder of how quickly and widely the virus can spread, Dr. Shah said. “What we’ve learned about COVID-19 is that it can be the uninvited guest at every single wedding, party, or event in Maine. The virus is where we are and then it comes home with us.”
It’s not clear yet how many people (if any) were wearing masks at the event, Dr. Shah said, but so far interviews with attendees suggest that mask wearing was “not commonplace or widespread.” Regardless, we know that large gatherings of people are not a great idea right now. That’s because more guests make it harder to actually stay at least six feet apart from each other, and, if an attendee does turn out to have COVID-19, they will have potentially exposed more people to the virus.
For now, the best strategies we have for reducing the spread of COVID-19 are social distancing, wearing a mask (especially in public spaces where it’s hard to maintain social distancing), keeping up proper hand hygiene, and avoiding large gatherings of people. And as the director-general of the World Health Organization made clear recently, we don’t get to pick and choose which of these guidelines we want to follow—we have to “do it all.”